By Burton Robertson
Joining the chamber of commerce is a great way to gain new business prospects, be an active part of a community, and learn about new ways to advertise your business. It is an investment in your business, no less than buying a piece of equipment, or placing an advertisement in a paper or on the radio. By being a member, you can attract more local business and have resources available that you might not otherwise have. It's also a great way to make connections, meet new business people and become informed about the activities going on in your local community.
A chamber provides a broad membership base, but usually within a defined geographic area, such as a town or a county. Depending on the nature of your business, this kind of local membership could be of significant importance.
Unlike a referral networking group, professional society, or trade association, a chamber does not limit the number of people who can join from any one profession or industry. The local membership may include, for example, several commercial interior designers. Membership in this chamber of commerce would thus give you an opportunity to meet more than one prospect for your word-of-mouth marketing team.
Chambers conduct social and business events where you can socialize and develop relationships. Becoming a member of a chamber of commerce provides opportunities to give back to the community and capitalize on significant member benefits; serving in the leadership raises your recognition, visibility, and credibility, as well as that of your business.
Chambers, like the rest of the business world, provide assistance based on what effort you put into it, and how you use the resources. Expecting a chamber to “do it all for you” as a consideration of the membership price is a waste of the fee. Good chambers have a variety of member services for you to take advantage of. Whether it is through seminars, counseling (like SBDCs) or networking events, numerous opportunities exist to grow and sustain your business by exposing yourself and your business to like-minded individuals. The biggest mistake people make is that they join a chamber, get their membership plaque, and expect business to roll in. Joining is just what “gets you in the game”. You then have to consistently network by going to chamber events, meetings, ribbon cuttings, grand openings, and, even better, getting involved on committees.
Doing your homework is what’s important here. All chambers are different, so it is important to go where you “feel the love”. Remember, however, that a chamber of commerce is a “casual” contact network where relationships will only grow with time and effort. So when you join any chamber of commerce, be prepared to “work” it. Much like planting a seed, you have to give it some care, attention, and time. But before you know it, things begin to blossom and soon you can enjoy the bloom...
Burton Robertson, in addition to running a number of businesses, serves on the board of the Wind Lake Chamber of Commerce.